His message of repentance, turning away from sin and back toward God, was convincing to his hearers and moved them to it because John understood what repentance really was.
Repenting is an easy concept to get your mind around, but difficult to get our heart around. Repentance is a conversion, a return to God with out hearts and minds. Often, the biggest obstacles in this are our own pride, fear, and doubt. This is why John was so effective. He is filled with humbleness, courage, and conviction. Only a man like John could have ever preached a message of repentance as strongly and effectively as he did.
And the people came. In fact, the Gospel states that the “whole region around the Jordan were going out to him”. The Baptist’s words flowed past the ears, thought the mind, and into the heart of the people, softening them and turning them away from sin towards life.
It took courage to go to the river, humbleness to acknowledge their sins, and conviction not to leave when the influential Pharisees and Sadducees arrived to see what was going on.
“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”
It was of him that the prophet Isaiah had spoken when he said:
A voice of one crying out in the desert,
Prepare the way of the Lord,
make straight his paths.
I don’t think this message was one for Jesus’ first coming alone. I think it is meant to echo through the ages. God had chosen John to give this message, and us to live the message. We are called to repent, prepare the way of the Lord, and make straight his paths.
When I first was thinking about what preparing the way of the Lord, and making straight his paths would involve for us today, visions of street-corner preachers shouting messages of “turn or burn” jumped into my head. But this method has little value in our culture today, turning the message of repentance into little more than a sideshow act.
I also thought about people who use the “smother-them-with-love” approach to straighten the path. But these people can rarely be heard speaking of sin, let alone repentance. This approach seems to lack effectiveness because it has less of a chance of leading people to repentance than it does enabling them in their sin. True love desires the ultimate good, and sometimes that good can only be obtained through repentance.
So I asked Mrs. Serviam! how she thought we should be preparing the way of the Lord today. Her answer was as simple as it was right.
“Through our children.”
Only as a father can I combine in some strange way a “turn-or-burn” message with a “smother-them-with-love” approach and actually make the path just a little straighter. Living your faith as parents not only has consequence for you, but also the little ones you’ve been entrusted with. A great way of teaching them about repentance is by bringing them to confession during Advent. When you do, you are teaching them about courage by owning up to their sins by seeking reconciliation, humbleness by admitting they were wrong in what they have done, and conviction through living a life of faith even after you have sinned.
In a small way we can become a mini “John the Baptist” within our family - even when our kids resemble a “brood of vipers”.